Georgia Childhood Obesity Campaign Draws Criticism

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta
Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

A blunt new television ad campaign targeting childhood obesity is stirring up controversy. Spearheaded by the non-profit organization Strong4Life under the auspices of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, the stark black and white images feature miserable-looking children, who happen to be paid actors, sharing how they are bullied and ostracized for being fat. The children also discuss being scared because they have been diagnosed with diabetes or hypertension.

Related link: When families ridicule kids for their weight

James Zervios, the director of communications for the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), told Yahoo! Shine that his group challenged Strong4Life about the legitimacy and effectiveness of the ad's message when they first appeared in a print campaign back in the spring of 2011. The OAC believe "that the inappropriate messaging could lead to bullying." One of the statements that the OAC found humiliating for overweight children read, "Big bones didn't make me this way. Big meals did."

Georgia ranks second in the nation for childhood obesity

Linda Matzigkeit, senior vice president of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta asserts that the hard-hitting campaign is exactly the wake-up call Georgians require to avert a catastrophic public health crisis. "We needed something that was more arresting and in your face than some of the flowery campaigns out there," Matzigkeit told ABC News. Nearly 1 million, or 40 percent, of kids in Georgia are considered overweight or obese. The campaign also points out that 75 percent of parents aren't aware that there is a problem.

Rebecca Puhl, Director of Research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy at Yale University agrees that childhood obesity is a grave issue facing America's families, but says, "This campaign has the potential to harm the very individuals it aims to help." She explains that it is possible to be direct and communicate the seriousness of the problem without shaming people. "If Georgia wants to effectively address childhood obesity, much more careful consideration should be given to the kind of public health messages they are sending so children and their families are supported in their efforts to lead healthier lives," Puhl told Yahoo! Shine. Puhl says the ads blame kids and their families, perpetuate negative stereotypes, and offer no useful information. She also points out the number one reason kids are bullied and teased at school is body size.

Childhood obesity in America

According to the Centers for Disease Control, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years. Their research points out that overweight and obese children are at a much greater risk for cardiovascular problems, diabetes, bone and joint disorders, and other many other serious diseases. Marjorie Nolan, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sees the Georgia ad controversy as being complicated. "I agree that more needs to be done to raise awareness about childhood obesity," Nolan told Yahoo! Shine. "But these ads lack a message of what should be done to ultimately solve the problem."

What do you think? Are these ads a necessary wake-up call or do they stigmatize overweight children? Share your views in the comments below.

Related links:
Is it ever ok for schools to ban lunches brought from home?
When parents encourage eating disorders
Healthy delicious cafeteria food? Revolution food delivers